From London to Moscow
These are letters Bill Downs wrote from London to his parents, William Randall Downs, Sr. and Katherine Lee Downs, in Kansas City, Kansas. Since 1940 he had worked in London as a wire reporter covering World War II for the United Press.
August 30, 1942.
. . .
I have had an offer of a job from Columbia Broadcasting System to do news commentary along the lines of Ed Murrow and Charlie Collingwood. I'm seriously considering it as I think it will pay more money. Besides, radio news commentary is a good racket to get in on -- especially now when radio reporting is just getting underway on a large scale. I have made a test broadcast to New York. The studio there made a recording of my voice which the various big shots will listen to and judge whether it's okay. If it is, and I should know within the next few days, we start talking turkey. I know I'll get more money. However, the job probably will entail my being transferred to some other spot besides London after I break in on the job. Current possibilities are either Moscow or Cairo. I wouldn't mind either assignment. From a personal point of view, I think it would be a wise move. Not only would it establish my name -- i.e. if I'm any good -- but the work is easier and I believe it has more of a future. I can always write on the side if I want.
. . .
All my love,
September 13, 1942.
Dear Mom, Dad and Bonnie Lee,
. . .
As I cabled you, I have quit the United Press and joined the Columbia Broadcasting company. The offer was just too good to turn down, and besides, I would like to see the other side of the war. I also believe that this international coverage of news by radio is a coming thing likely to expand fast. I will be on the ground floor for a career in that field after the war. All in all, I'm happy with the shift.
Here are the details. Ed Murrow called and asked me to make a voice test, which proved satisfactory. Then he offered me $70 weekly and a full expense account to go to Russia. It means that my salary will pile up each week that I'm there. They agreed to purchase all the kit I need -- such as heavy clothing etc. -- and said the stay there should not exceed one year, after which I will be shifted somewhere else on the battlefront. Probably will get a brief vacation when I come out of Russia to the United States.
I do not leave UP until my notice is up sometime next week. Then I will break into the radio racket here in London for three or four weeks getting a few news broadcasts under my belt, after which I'll leave for Moscow.
It was a hell of a decision to make. I didn't want to walk out on the best story of the war by leaving the Western Front. Still, I figured that the Eastern Front is going to last through the winter and into next spring and that it will continue to be an important factor in the war. The competition will be so hot over there and I should be able to make myself a name. The payoff is good and the prospects better, so I'm sure I did right.
. . .
I don't want you to worry about me. Everyone else has been taking care of themselves over there and there's no reason why I can't do the same. You won't of course hear from me as often as when I worked in London, but I'll get messages back via radio as often as possible. Anyway, you'll be able to hear my voice over CBS about five times a week.
I should be able to leave London without any debts -- including cleaning up $150 worth of U.S. income tax -- although I don't expect to have much left over. Anyway, I don't owe anyone, which is something for me.
I won't be leaving until around the first of November so I'll have time to receive a couple of letters from you. I'll write whenever I get a chance to cop a couple of spare minutes. Meanwhile, you might keep an ear peeled for the worldwide news roundup by CBS, as I should be going on the air sometime soon. Let me know how I sound.
. . .